Lecture Series: The World of Alexander von Humboldt” with Senior Curator Eleanor Jones Harvey

  • On Wednesday, September 16, 2020, the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) presented a lively lecture with Eleanor Jones Harvey, senior curator at SAAM and curator of the landmark exhibition Alexander von Humboldt and the United States: Art, Nature, and Culture. This is the first lecture in a six-part series that examines the profound impact of Alexander von Humboldt, a renowned Prussian naturalist, and explorer and one of the most influential figures of the nineteenth century. Learn how Humboldt’s ideas shaped American perceptions of nature and the way American cultural identity became grounded in our relationship with the environment in this thought-provoking lecture.

    The exhibition Alexander von Humboldt and the United States: Art, Nature, and Culture places American art squarely in the center of a conversation about the lasting influence of the naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) with artworks that reveal how the American wilderness became emblematic of the country’s distinctive character. The exhibition includes the original Peale Mastodon skeleton, on loan from the Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt, as well as two paintings by Charles Willson Peale featuring the fossil—Exhumation of the Mastodon (1806–08) and "The Artist in His Museum" (1822). Featuring this important fossil, that has been in Europe since 1847, emphasizes how natural history and natural monuments bond Humboldt with the United States. The skeleton, excavated in 1801 in upstate New York, was the most complete to be unearthed at that time. Its discovery became a symbol of civic pride. In 1804, Humboldt was honored with a dinner beneath the mastodon exhibited in the Peale Museum in Philadelphia.